Maia and Bambi’s Barrier-Free Introduction


With everything that has gone on lately, one of our mini elephant introductions slipped through the cracks. Maia was the first elephant to be introduced to Bambi without a barrier between them. Although Maia is generally not the first elephant we would do this with, we try to allow the girls to be the ones who choose. Maia was the first elephant to meet Bambi through the fence, and all of their interactions were gentle and positive. Since Mara and Rana were still at the back of Yard 4, spending their time in the pond, we allowed Maia and Bambi to share a yard one morning after breakfast.

Bambi was already in Yard 1, and we let Maia into the yard with her. True to herself, Maia went over to the first pile of hay she saw and didn’t pay Bambi much attention. Bambi, on the other hand, was excited to see another elephant in her space and bounded over. With their interactions through the fence, Bambi did what is considered proper etiquette for when new elephants meet- she backed up to her, was slow and patient to allow for initial touches and smells. This morning Bambi forgot all of her elephant manners and rushed right up and put her face in Maia’s face as she was eating. Not surprisingly, Maia wasn’t thrilled and gave her a little head nudge to let her know. Bambi seemed a little surprised, possibly because all of their other interactions had gone so well up until that point. She did back away a bit, but only gave it a minute before trying to approach again. Maia’s response was the same, and this time Bambi responded by leaving and giving it a few minutes. Bambi tried to approach once more, this time by backing up, but still not respecting Maia being in the middle of eating and the tone that had already been set. Bambi was once again met with a gentle ‘not now’, and this time Bambi walked off and went into Yard 5.

While this may not be the introduction people would dream of, it’s also not completely negative. First, Bambi has to learn proper elephant behavior if she is to be part of a herd. What went on between Maia and Bambi is something we have seen with other elephants before, and will most likely see again. Some elephants initially approach in a very reserved manner because of their insecurities, while others approach full steam ahead because of their excitement to be with another elephant. The latter would be similar to a stranger running up and hugging a person they don’t know. Some people would tolerate it, others would push the person away, and some would have a much stronger reaction. The ‘mistake’ was Bambi’s, but it is because of all of her years alone, and then a poor introduction and tumultuous relationship with Maison at the zoo.

For those of you who have been following GSE for a while, you will remember that Maia and Guida pushed Rana away for a very similar reason. Rana was super clingy, wanted to be close all of the time, to the point where she wouldn’t let either lie down to sleep during the day. Maia and Guida sent clear messages to Rana that she needed to tone it down, but, at the time, Rana had a hard time taking it down a notch. As a result, Rana ended up going off on her own, which many supporters found sad to watch. But during this time, she realized that being a herd member meant putting your own desires to the side and trying to be what the other elephants need instead. The phenomenally supportive elephant that Rana is today grew out of that experience. But it took a not so great experience and time for her to get there.

The other positive was that Bambi didn’t run away and instead was able to see that she could safely leave the situation on her own. Maia didn’t chase or follow her; she simply continued to eat. This gave Bambi some time to think and decide if she felt secure enough to come back or if she needed some time alone. She did come back on her own that afternoon, but by then, Maia had finished her snacks and moved on to Yard 4. That afternoon Mara and Rana came back, and we ended up with a lot more to talk about with that interaction. We only realized we never discussed Maia and Bambi when I (Kat) made a passing comment to Suz about it, and she mentioned she didn’t know about it, that we had never said anything.

So yes, the two did spend time together already, and we’ll try it again soon. This morning they were being gentle and touching at the fence again- we were watching on the cameras before going down. Hopefully, next time they share space, Bambi will remember her last encounter, consider the scenario, and try a different approach. It’s all part of the growth that happens at the sanctuary.

Photo of Maia.

October 20, 2020


Asian habitat map rev6


  1. REPLY
    John Perrigo says

    Fascinating creatures, elephants are. Thanks for educating all of us humans.

  2. REPLY
    Beverly Singler says

    OMG… Who would even think to second guess you on how to take care of these magnificent darlings… Not me….

  3. REPLY
    Beverly Singler says

    Wow. Love the visual

  4. REPLY
    Nancy Shaw says

    This sounds just like Junior High! I had to learn the hard way girls couldn’t hold hands anymore !! hahaha

    • REPLY
      Kelejan says

      Nancy, yes, we are very alike in some ways. humans and elephants. In my human world I am part of a threesome, and usually, two of them are closer friends than the third one. More so when the third person is a latecomer.

      • Nancy Shaw says

        Kelejan, I agree with you !! Fortunately I have 4 Sisters so the mix and match is a little more fluid although the Big Sister is the Boss. hahaha

  5. REPLY
    Sunny says

    Of course that extremely mud elephant is Maia XD

  6. REPLY
    Wim says

    All and all it’s not easy being an Elephant even in a perfect sanctuary. I’m trying to understand both reactions of the girls. Bambi just wants a sisterly hug. Hopefully she’ll get the attention she needs very soon. She deserves some quality time after all her hard years.

  7. REPLY
    Barb says

    Love the ele analytical discussions! And of course love the habitat map (I am a broken record :o)

  8. REPLY
    Marcia Brixius says

    There’s an abundance of info out there on the net about elephant herds in the wild and their behavior. Most explain that herds are composed of a matriarchal mother, her sisters, daughters and their babies with just an occasional unrelated member allowed to join a herd. I am fascinated by your daily blogs, but I am constantly wondering and having questions. Can you suggest any reading material that may exist that documents the political and social bonding of non-related elephants, such as the ones you are bringing together in your own sanctuary? Are there studies to be read, or is your sanctuary one of the first to enter new territory for documenting the behavior of voluntary elephant socialization?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      I wish there was something we could refer, but there isn’t that we know of. There are other sanctuaries who have done the same thing, but I don’t believe anyone has done an official study. We had hoped to be able to do a behavioral study here, and had a group of scientists interested to help, but weren’t able to get the necessary funding.

  9. REPLY
    Carey says

    Wow, nice to hear about this, the “lesson”! And good to hear they were back together either side of a fence later. Both Bambi and Maia seem to be outgoing characters, seeing Bambi so “speedy” sometimes reminds me of Maia. I’m sure good things will come out of their interaction as you said. Fascinating to watch all this.

  10. REPLY
    Irene says

    Thank you for the wonderful update! They constantly amaze us in so many ways! Such wonderful social beauties, Maia is letting the newbie to have some manners! Lvlvlv♥️

  11. REPLY
    Sherry says

    Good story, I always enjoy learning about the “elephant way”.

    • REPLY
      FRANCINE FORD says

      I remember Maia & Bambi’s 1st meeting through the fence & was wondering when they’d get together again. I’m thoroughly enjoying these wonderfully educational blog posts; thank you for sharing! Elly herd behaviours are very much like monkey group behaviours & can change as quickly as one Elly coming into an area & another one leaving. I learned the ways of the monkey when I fostered Sadie, a capuchin monkey for 6 years. Sadie taught me many things monkey that are relatable to human behaviours & they’ve stood me in good stead. Fascinating to learn the ways of Ellys.

      • Kelejan says

        That is so interesting, Francine. All groups of creatures do seem to have many habits in common.

  12. REPLY
    Sallie says

    BFFs! YIPPEE! We all need a good friend in life, whether human or animal OR BOTH . . . I am so happy to see this wonderful moment and relationship. KEEP IT GOIN’ GIRLS! WE LOVE YOU TO BITS!

  13. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    just like little kids Elephant’s are amazing animals

  14. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    I was thinking about the similar interactions with Rana and Maia and Guida as I read this blog….then came to your comment of the same. It is learning time for Bambi. I am cheered by her need to interact with the others…she was so fearful and hid away at the zoo. At least this demonstrates Bambi’s need for friendship and her wanting to be with the others. Rana was full on but has become a calming influence, matriarchal, I feel. This is Bambi’s time to grow and know what being part of a herd means. I am so proud and happy for her.

  15. REPLY
    SHEILA says


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